The White Island volcano in New Zealand has erupted, killing at least five people and injuring more than 20. the sudden eruption of the volcano, which lies off the east coast of North Island happened on Monday, sending plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.
There are fears that more than 20 people have been unaccounted for. Local reports some 50 tourists were seen walking on the crater floor before the sudden volcanic eruption happened.
Too dangerous for rescue workers to go to the island
"There is a number still remaining on the island who are currently unaccounted for," deputy police commissioner John Tims said in Wellington. "At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island ... The island is currently covered in ash and we are taking expert advice with regards to the conditions to determine when we can safely access the island," he added.
In a worrying update, the police said they have no communication with anyone on White Island, which is also known as Whakaari. Although police initially concluded that there were 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption, they have clarified that only 50 were indeed around at the time of the eruption.
"We know that there were a number of tourists on or around the island at the time, both New Zealanders and visitors from overseas ... I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, according to CNA.
Where is White Island Volcano?
The volcanic island is about 50km from North Island of New Zealand. It is situated in the picturesque Bay of Plenty. It is an active andesite stratovolcano, and New Zealand's most active cone volcano. The white Island has seen by continuous volcanic activity in the last 150,000 years, experts say.
A minor eruption happened in August 2013 but the volcano has been sending warning signs for a long time. The mountain is a favourite destination of adventure tourists from around the world, especially the neighbouring Australia.
Royal Caribbean tours issues statement
Local reports said the tour party at the site of the volcanic eruption was from cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, which is operated by Royal Caribbean. The cruise liner was docked at Tauranga on the North Island of New Zealand. The company officials said a group from the liner had ventured out into the volcanic mountain.
"We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today ... We do not have any additional details to share at this time. My understanding is that the tour party was round about 30 people from the cruise ship," the company said in a statement, according to CNA.